Book Shelf: Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt

Book Shelf: Angela and the Baby Jesus

Prior to meeting the Radio Lollipop crew last week, I came across the little blue book Angela and the Baby Jesus amongst a shelf of gift titles.

The short tale by Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes, 'Tis and Teacher Man) presents us with a fresh take on the beloved Christ story based on a true account given by his mother and verified by an aunt: not of the event that happened some 2000 years ago recorded by Matthew, Mark, John and Luke, of course, but from her girlhood.

When Mrs McCourt was a six-year-old child, we are told, she came across the baby Jesus in a crib at St. Joseph's Church near School House Lane where she lived. Even though he looked and felt cold, she surmised that the baby Jesus wouldn't complain to his parents, "because the Baby Jesus would never want to make his mammy the slightest bit unhappy", so she took it upon herself to make him warm.   

Little Angela hides in a confession booth for her moment, then chucks the baby over a fence in order to rescue him. Only, she's caught out by her brother, Pat, who dobs on her. "She have God in the bed, so she do." When her mother discovers the Baby Jesus, she exclaims, "Mother o'God! Is that the Baby Jesus from St. Joseph's?", and a fight between Pat and Angela, over who will warm the Baby Jesus, ensues. 

Before long, it's off to the church, where the little family encounter the parish priest Father Creagh and a policeman. Pat declares that he is prepared to go to jail in place of his sister for the crime, but the good-humored authority figures have a better idea.

The "adult" version of the book, with illustrations by Lauren Long, is all moody, ashen tones of brown and grey until the very last page where we find, surrounded by a halo of blue, the Baby Jesus in his crib, arms outstretched. It's accompanied by the text, "he smiled the way he always did and held out his arms to the world." 

Unruffled by a small child's innocent foray into crime, it's a story very much for our times, of the baby who held his arms out to the world even though it was very, very cold. This story book reminded me that he died on the cross some 33 years later wearing the same small piece of cloth as he did in the crib, with the same outstretched arms. 

This beautiful little book is a balm for weary adult souls and can be read throughout the year.

Girl With a Satchel